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Peru, officially known as the Republic of Peru (Spanish: República del Perú) is situated in western South America. It shares borders with Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil to the east, Bolivia to the southeast, Chile to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the south and west. Peru boasts a remarkable range of ecosystems, from the arid plains along its western Pacific coastline, to the soaring peaks of the Andes mountains extending from the north to the southeast, and the lush tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin in the east, complete with the majestic Amazon River, the source of which is in the Peruvian Andes. Peru’s population exceeds 32 million, and Lima serves as the capital and largest city of Peru (pop. 10 million). With an area encompassing 1,285,216 km2 (496,225 sq mi), Peru ranks as the 19th largest country globally and the third largest in South America.
The territory of Peru holds a rich historical tapestry, having been home to various cultures during ancient and medieval times. It boasts one of the most extensive histories of civilization, tracing its heritage back to the 10th millennium BCE. Renowned pre-colonial cultures and civilizations include the Caral-Supe civilization, which stands as one of the earliest civilizations in the Americas and a cradle of civilization; the Nazca culture; the Wari and Tiwanaku empires; the Kingdom of Cusco; and the Inca Empire, which was the largest known state in the pre-Columbian Americas. The Spanish Empire’s conquest of the region in the 16th century led to the establishment of a viceroyalty by Charles V, named the Kingdom of Peru, encompassing much of its South American territories and centered in Lima. Notably, higher education in the Americas began with the official founding of the National University of San Marcos in Lima in 1551.
Formally proclaiming independence in 1821, Peru achieved full independence following the foreign military campaigns led by José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar, culminating in the decisive Battle of Ayacucho in 1824. Over the subsequent years, the nation navigated political instability, followed by periods of economic and political steadiness, including the guano exploitation era, which concluded with the War of the Pacific (1879–1884). The 20th century witnessed a struggle with political and social turmoil, interspersed with growth spurts. The 1990s brought about a shift towards neoliberal economics under Alberto Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos, with Fujimorism’s lasting impact on governance. The 2000s marked economic growth and poverty reduction, while the following decade unveiled deep-rooted sociopolitical vulnerabilities, accentuated by a political crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the period of unrest starting in 2022.
Peru stands as a representative democratic republic divided into 25 regions. The nation’s core economic activities encompass mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing, with emerging sectors including telecommunications and biotechnology. Part of The Pacific Pumas, a political and economic group of nations along Latin America’s Pacific coast, Peru shares common trends of growth, stable macroeconomics, enhanced governance, and openness to global integration. The country ranks highly in social freedom and is an active participant in organizations like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Pacific Alliance, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the World Trade Organization. Peru is also considered a middle power.
Peru’s population is a mix of Mestizos, Amerindians, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. Spanish is the official and predominant language, although many Peruvians speak Quechuan languages, Aymara, or other indigenous languages. This blend of cultural traditions has contributed to a diverse array of artistic expressions, culinary delights, literature, and music.
The origin of the country’s name is believed to be linked to Birú, a local ruler who resided near the Bay of San Miguel in Panama City during the early 16th century. Spanish conquistadors, upon their arrival in 1522, thought that this region marked the southernmost point of the New World. As Francisco Pizarro ventured into the southern territories, they began to refer to those lands as Birú or Perú.
An alternative narrative is presented by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, a contemporary writer who was the offspring of an Inca princess and a conquistador. He explained that Birú was the name of a common Amerindian who was encountered by a ship’s crew on an exploration mission for Governor Pedro Arias Dávila. Garcilaso de la Vega further recounted various instances of misunderstandings due to the absence of a shared language.
The Spanish Crown conferred official recognition to the name through the 1529 Capitulación de Toledo, designating the newly encountered Inca Empire as the province of Peru. In 1561, rebel Lope de Aguirre proclaimed himself the “Prince” of an autonomous Peru, but his rebellion was swiftly quashed, leading to his capture and execution. During the era of Spanish dominance, the territory embraced the title of Viceroyalty of Peru, which transformed into the Peruvian Republic upon achieving independence. In 1979, the nation officially adopted its present name, the Republic of Peru.
Peru occupies a position on the central western coast of South America, facing the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Its entirety falls within the Southern Hemisphere, with its northernmost point just 1.8 minutes of latitude, approximately 3.3 kilometers (2.1 miles) south of the equator. Encompassing a land area of 1,285,216 square kilometers (496,225 square miles) in western South America, the country shares borders with Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil to the east, Bolivia to the southeast, Chile to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The Andes mountain range runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean, serving as a defining feature for the three traditional geographical regions of the country.
To the west lies the costa (coast), a narrow and mostly arid plain, except for valleys carved by seasonal rivers. The sierra (highlands) encompasses the Andes region, including the Altiplano plateau and the nation’s highest summit, Huascarán, standing at 6,768 meters (22,205 feet). The third region, the selva (jungle), spans an expansive flat terrain covered by the Amazon rainforest and extends eastward. This region accounts for nearly 60 percent of Peru’s total land area. Peru boasts fifty-four hydrographic basins, with fifty-two of them being small coastal basins that release their waters into the Pacific Ocean. The remaining two basins are the endorheic basin of Lake Titicaca and the Amazon basin, both confined by the Andes mountain range. The Amazon basin holds particular significance, as it serves as the source of the Amazon River, the world’s longest river at 6,872 kilometers (4,272 miles), covering 75% of Peruvian territory. The country contributes 4% of the globe’s freshwater resources.
Most of Peru’s rivers originate in the towering peaks of the Andes and flow into one of three major basins. Those flowing toward the Pacific Ocean are characterized by their steepness and brevity, often flowing only intermittently. Amazon River tributaries possess greater volume, length, and gentler slopes as they emerge from the sierra. Rivers that feed into Lake Titicaca are generally short but have substantial flow. Among Peru’s longest rivers are the Ucayali, the Marañón, the Putumayo, the Yavarí, the Huallaga, the Urubamba, the Mantaro, and the Amazon itself.
Lake Titicaca, straddling the border between Peru and Bolivia in the Andes, ranks as the largest lake in Peru and all of South America. The country’s most significant reservoirs, situated in the coastal region, include Poechos, Tinajones, San Lorenzo, and El Fraile.
Peru’s climatic diversity results from the interplay of several factors, including its tropical latitude, the presence of mountain ranges, variations in topography, and the influence of two ocean currents—namely, the Humboldt and El Niño currents. This convergence creates a wide range of climates throughout the country. The coastal region experiences moderate temperatures, limited precipitation, and elevated humidity levels, although the northern stretches are warmer and more humid. Moving into the mountainous terrain, summers are marked by frequent rainfall, while temperatures and humidity decrease with altitude, ultimately culminating in the freezing peaks of the Andes. In the Peruvian Amazon, abundant rainfall and elevated temperatures are characteristic, except for the southernmost part, which witnesses cold winters and seasonal precipitation patterns.
The Columbian exchange, sparked by Spanish expeditions and the discovery of America, brought about a significant culinary transformation, introducing new foods to the Old World like potatoes, tomatoes, and maize. Indigenous Peruvian cuisine today still prominently features elements such as corn, potatoes, and chilies. The Instituto Peruano de la Papa reveals that Peru’s terrain hosts a staggering variety of over 3,000 potato types.
Modern Peruvian gastronomy is a fusion of Amerindian and Spanish traditions, with strong influences from Chinese, African, Arab, Italian, and Japanese culinary styles. Iconic dishes include anticuchos, ceviche, and pachamanca. The country’s diverse climate provides an ideal environment for cultivating a wide array of plants and animals used in cooking.
Peruvian cuisine stands as a reflection of local customs and ingredients, incorporating influences from Indigenous populations like the Inca, as well as from colonizers and immigrants. These newcomers adapted their traditional dishes using the available resources in Peru. The foundation of Peruvian cuisine rests on four core elements: corn, potatoes, Amaranthaceae grains (quinoa, kañiwa, and kiwicha), and legumes (beans and lupins). Staples introduced by the Spanish include rice, wheat, and various meats like beef, pork, and chicken. In recent years, a resurgence of interest in native Peruvian foods and culinary techniques has led to the renewed popularity of traditional ingredients like quinoa, kiwicha, chili peppers, and various root vegetables. This culinary movement can even be seen with a contemporary twist in towns like Cusco, a popular destination for tourists. Chef Gaston Acurio has played a significant role in raising awareness about local ingredients and promoting their use in modern cuisine.
Peru is a country rich in cultural heritage, diverse landscapes, abundant flora and fauna, and historical significance. For clarity, it can be divided into three separate regions: the Andes, the Amazon, and Coastal Deserts.
Peru’s Andes are home to some of the most iconic peaks in the world, including Huascarán, the highest mountain in Peru at 6,768 m/22,204 ft. The Andes spread across Peru, form the largest concentration of snow-covered peaks of the Americas. They are an intricate system of large and small mountain ranges (approximately 20 of them) crowned by a thousand summits that tower over 5,000 meters and more than thirty that rise above 6,000 meters. From high-altitude plateaus to deep canyons, such as the Colca Canyon, the northern Altiplano, the inter-Andean high-altitude valleys, the puna and the glacier-covered summits of the major Cordilleras; Blanca, Huayhuash, Occidental, Vilcanota, Vilcabamba and Apolobamba, Peru offers an endless menu of destinations. Running mostly from north to south, these ranges divide the country into a mix of intricate connections between geography, ancient history, intense cultural experiences, and a variety of people speaking 84 languages, the most dominant are Spanish, Quechua and Aymara.
The Andes in Peru are closely linked to the Inca civilization. Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas,” is one of the most famous archaeological sites globally and offers endless photographic opportunities amid its impressive stone structures and can be reached by train and bus or by hiking the Inca Trail. Chan Chan, and the archaeological complex of Chavín de Huántar are also significant historical sites that offer insights into ancient cultures. Interactions with local communities, such as the highland Quechua people, provide insights into their traditional way of life and add depth to your photographic narrative.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas, located near Cusco, is a picturesque region with terraced landscapes, traditional villages, and magnificent ancient ruins. Cusco is the cradle of the Peruvian highland experience and a gateway to all destinations.
Vibrant Markets and Festivals:
Indigenous markets in towns like Pisac and Ollantaytambo offer colorful textiles, crafts, and local produce. These markets are bustling with activity and are excellent for capturing the vibrant culture of the Andean people. In Cusco, traditional festivals, such as Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun), feature elaborate costumes, music, and dance.
Lakes and Reflections:
Lake Titicaca (shared with Bolivia), is the highest navigable lake in the world, offer stunning reflections of surrounding mountains and traditional totora-reed boats. The beauty of these landscapes is perfect for capturing serene and reflective shots.
Wildlife and Flora:
The Andes are home to diverse flora and fauna, from alpine plants to unique bird species like the Andean condor and biggest hummingbird in the world, the Andean Star. The varied ecosystems offer unlimited opportunities for nature and wildlife photography.
The Amazon basin:
The Peruvian Amazon region is a vast and biodiverse area of tropical rainforest located in the eastern part of Peru extending from the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains to the borders with Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil. The climate is tropical, with high temperatures and humidity year-round with distinct wet and dry seasons. The region is dominated by the Amazon River (the source begins in the Peruvian Andes) and its extensive network of tributaries and is considered one of the longest and is the most voluminous rivers in the world.
Its diverse ecosystems consist of dense tropical rainforests, rivers, oxbow lakes, floodplains, up to high-altitude cloud forests. It’s estimated that around 10% of the world’s known species reside here. The rainforests are home to a variety of iconic species, including jaguars, pumas, tapirs, howler monkeys, macaws, toucans, anacondas, and countless insect species. The region is inhabited by numerous indigenous communities that have lived in harmony with the environment for thousands of years each one has a unique culture, language, and traditional practices.
Peru has established several protected areas in the Amazon region to conserve its biodiversity and support sustainable practices. Examples include Manu National Park, Tambopata National Reserve, and Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Like many parts of the Amazon Rainforest, it faces threats such as deforestation, illegal logging, mining, and habitat destruction that is why conservation efforts are crucial to protect its unique ecosystems.
Southern Peru has the northern terminus of the Atacama Desert, where the mysterious geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines etched into the desert floor are best viewed from the air. They depict various shapes and creatures and have sparked intrigue for centuries. The desert oasis of Huacachina near Ica is surrounded by massive sand dunes, making it a hotspot for sandboarding and dune buggy rides.
Peruvian cuisine is internationally acclaimed for its diversity and flavors; from ceviche to shrimp soup and from anticuchos to quinoa-based dishes, the vibrant culinary scene of Peru should be on your list. Try the national drink made from a white brandy, the delicious pisco sour.
In summary, traveling to Peru offers a unique blend of ancient history, cultural richness, adventure, and natural beauty. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an adventure seeker, a culinary explorer, or simply someone eager to experience the magic of diverse landscapes, Peru’s attractions make it a destination well worth exploring. From the Andes to the Amazon and to the Coastal Deserts, Peru has it all.